By Syed Raza Hassan
KARACHI, Pakistan, Nov 7 – Pakistani police arrested dozens of people in a crackdown on more than 90 seminaries in Karachi, following a series of sectarian shootings in the country’s largest city, officials said on Monday.
Provincial police chief Allah Dino Khwaja told Reuters the crackdown was aimed at both Sunni and Shi’ite seminaries, after at least 10 people were killed in recent attacks.
On Friday, five supporters of the Sunni Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ), which advocates for Shi’ites to be legally declared non-Muslim and has a violent offshoot that targets Shi’ite mosques, were killed in drive-by attacks in Karachi.
On Oct. 29, five members of the Shi’ite community were shot dead at a religious gathering in the city’s North Nazimabad area, an attack claimed by Lashkar-e-Jhangvi al-Alami, one of ASWJ’s offshoots.
A security official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that “dozens” had been arrested in the crackdown.
Over the weekend, three prominent leaders of the Shi’ite community were picked up by police and paramilitary Rangers for their alleged role in the shootings of the ASWJ men on Friday.
The arrests prompted protests by Shi’ites in the Malir area of Karachi, where demonstrators blocked a road and were forcibly cleared by police firing tear gas, rubber bullets and automatic weapons.
It was not immediately clear if there were any casualties.
Police also searched the Siddiq-e-Akbar mosque, considered the Karachi headquarters of the ASWJ, on Monday. The group’s secretary-general, Taj Hanafi, and 10 other suspects were detained and shifted to an undisclosed location, said a police official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The ASWJ was officially banned as a terrorist organisation in 2012, but its workers continue to operate openly and leaders often hold public gatherings.
Violent crime has dropped significantly in Karachi, a teeming metropolis of more than 18 million people, since the launch of a paramilitary operation three years ago, but targeted attacks are still frequent.
Shi’ite Muslims make up about 20 percent of Pakistan’s 190 million people, and sectarian attacks against them have become increasingly common in recent years.
Since 2002, more than 2,500 Shi’ites have been killed in such attacks, according to data gathered by the South Asia Terrorism Portal.